I watched as the pretty blonde girl with the heavy eye makeup and the strategically ripped and overly tight rock t-shirt searched frantically through her oversized purse, with an ever increasing look of panic on her face.
“I know I put it in here somewhere” she muttered, just under her breath. “For real?” asked her raven haired friend in the fishnet gloves. “You know what you’re like when you’re rushin’. You ALREADY forgot the mix!” “No, no,” said the blonde girl, slumping back in her seat “I thought for sure I’d packed it. For the concert. You know, just in case!”
“Hmmm..” said fishnet girl, clearly brainstorming, although from the look on her face, this heavy thinking was causing her a great deal of strain. “Well, my cousin’s girlfriend’s sister’s best friend works in the Shoppers pharmacy. Or is doing some placement through Compu College or something. Maybe she’s got some pull and they can call over to your pharmacy back home and you can pick up some up there? Or loan you one at least anyway? If you explain it all. You know, just in case? I mean it IS Metallica!”
“Yeah, maybe,” said the blonde girl, wide eyed, a serious look crossing her face “Cuz I remember that time my sister went to one of these concerts without HER birth control and” shaking her head “NOT good.”
Wow, I thought, Who knew Metallica were so well known for their baby making?
That’s just one example of a not so unusual conversation one might overhear as they traverse the wilds that is our public transportation system. A social experiment to the nth degree, riding the bus is not for the faint hearted or the easily disturbed. In fact, one needs tolerance, understanding, and a damn good sense of humour if they choose to face their fellow Haligonians on this battlefield on wheels.
Growing up in Whitney Pier and partaking in that community’s twisted version of a “school bus”, you might say I was born ready to take on any challenges HRM Transit could throw my way. Back in the day, we’d be crammed into these small overcrowded and noisy buses, long past any hope or prayer of ever passing a safety inspection, and shuttled off at breakneck speeds towards our falling down school of destination. Halifax has its own big boy version of the Pier Bus. It’s called the #80, and it makes a slow, plodding journey from Downsview Mall in Sackville to Scotia Square downtown, and back again. The #80 is almost inevitably the oldest bus on the road, with heaters that won’t work in the winter and windows that won’t open in the summer. The seats are often covered with graffiti and have large rips and a faint unpleasant odor. But that’s when you can find a seat, as it’s often full to capacity with many people standing and the driver constantly screaming “Move to the Back! Move to the Back!” like some crazed mantra only he knows. It’s passengers truly come from all walks of life, so as you look around you’ll find guys in suits and ties while others wear ripped jeans and dirty hoodies, and girls in high heels and high fashion, while others sport pajama pants and dyed purple hair. And retirees, lots of retirees, usually hard of hearing yet eager to chat to anyone in their vicinity, yelling things from “Back in my day, we used to have to walk 10 miles to a bus stop” to “:Hey you! Yeah you over there! Are you a boy or a girl under all that! By the Jesus who can tell anymore!”
I figure if you’re taking the #80 without looking at any and every other mode of transportation, including walking, bicycling, carpooling, and at least one serious attempt at sprouting wings and flying, then it’s likely you’ve almost certainly given up on life and are now very open to the concept of hell on earth. Yes kids, it’s that bad.
Now the #81, another frequent ride of mine, exists on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s buses are usually shiny and new, at best a half full maybe, mostly lorded over by young urban professionals making their way from the burbs. Most are equipped with blue tooths, so although there’s often the low murmur of conversation, it’s not happening ON the bus, but rather with whomever’s speaking on one’s ear. And let me tell you, it’s a bit unnerving to see all those talking heads talking at once.
The #17 is the Saint Mary’s bus, and like your typical college student, sometimes it’s all eager and attentive and on a precise schedule, other time’s it’s quite late with some poor excuses, and still others it doesn’t bother showing up at all. Waiting for the #17 therefore is usually reflective on how badly you want to get somewhere, because it’s arrival and departure is often truly a guessing game. Riding it throughout the year really allows you to relive some of those college days. The kids are usually pretty raucous and loud – possibly even quite drunk before breakfast -in September, but when reality hits, or the student loan runs out, and the exams and the papers and the hard work begin, they tend to look all hollow eyed and vacant as they move about their day. Kind of Walking Dead, SMU style.
The Spring Garden route, the #1, tends to be all business. Much like the 80 with its cross section of people, the #1 seems to exist to solely get people from A to B, as quickly and as efficiently as possible. (Which, in theory, all transit systems should be, but if you think that, you don’t know Halifax Regional Municipality Transit). People have no time for pleasant chats or leisurely neighborhood detours on this route. Just take me on the lean mean streets and get me there. Fast. But despite it’s business like demeanor, I’ve found over the years that the #1, over all routes, has the majority of personnel problems. For one, it’s often home to a small number of first year sorority girls making their way from the Halifax Shopping Centre to the residence at Dalhousie, and almost inevitably when these pretty girls gather so too will some late twenties out of work still living in their mama’s basement and yet still doesn’t know how to wash dude comes along and starts hitting on them. Hard. Because, you know, that’s just who these girls would want to take home to their mamas. Uusally it starts out friendly enough. Sometimes one of the girls might be even a bit flirty. But eventually the ick factor kicks in as these old enough to know better “grown men” won’t take no for an answer from these not so worldly but playing hard at being a grown up little girls. One late afternoon last winter I had to hop off the bus near the university with these two tearful and shaken young ladies as these Prince Charmings that had targeted them had decided their version of flirting would involve “hey baby, how’d you like to lick my lollipop?. As one girl burst into tears, the men started laughing and I heard the other say in a shaky voice as firmly as she could “you better stop following us!” Standing as tall as I could (I’m only 5’9″, so it’s an effort), crossing my arms, puffing my chest out, and pulling my Ray Bans down just a little, I said in as deep a voice as I could muster “Is there a problem here?” I watched as the stupid one exchanged glances with the even stupider one, and said “um, no officer, no problems at all!” before they ran off in the other direction. Yeah, that’s what I thought. (Hey! If the crew cut and the sunglasses and the stance say police officer to some, and perhaps keeps ’em from being a menace to society, who am I to judge??)
Of course, as much I wanted to shake those guys in that situation, sometimes I want to shake the girl. But by that I mean in the “what the hell are you thinking? category. I watch this young couple get on the bus most mornings, the girl saddled down with a backpack and a few bags while he chats on his cell phone. The girl is model thin and well dressed, with shiny straight brown hair and a small smattering of acne across her otherwise pretty face. The guy is bigger, a bit sloppily dressed, with a bad haircut, wearing possibly the thickest glasses I’ve ever seen, making his eyes huge and round behind them. After laughing much too loudly with the person on the other end, he snatches one of the lunch bags and proceeds to criticize everything packed within. “Who packed cheese and crackers? I hate cheese and crackers” he growls. “I didn’t realize I put it in there, sorry” she says, in a small voice. Not even hearing what she says, he goes on “well if it’s only the two of us and I didn’t pack it, then clearly you did, right? Right?” Because, you know, this clearly is and important point to argue. As she tries to change the subject and talk about something interesting she’s learned in her last biology class, he ignores her and launches into a diatribe about how his job at the call centre makes him more valuable and contributing member to society then her wasting her time at school and “sucking on the government tit with those student loans”, instead of working an honest job like he does. Besides, he says, once he gets that promotion it’s all “smooth sailing” for him from here on out, as he waves his hand in front of her face to signify his sailing ship.
It takes every single ounce of strength I have not to send him sailing out the window.
Worse, I have to literally sit on my hands and bite my lip HARD to stop myself from grabbing her by the shoulders and shouting “Dear God Woman! You’re beautiful, you’re smart, you can do soooooo much better! I mean never mind just listening to the idiot, but have you SEEN him????”
I’d share more stories, but I think I better run and catch the #17. IF it decides to show that is…
But never fear, I’m sure I’ll return to this subject. Buses and the hearty folk who ride them provide endless opportunities for story telling. We’re talking ENDLESS.